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Program 'STRYVE's to reduce teen violence

Teens paint Plaza del Sol in time for Rock the Block '14


About 20 teens worked all day recently to repaint the colorful design on the 13,000-square-foot Plaza del Sol in the Rockwood neighborhood, just in time for Rock the Block '14 next week.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Andy Acosta, 14, of Northeast Portland touches up the purple paint on the Plaza del Sol mural on Friday, June 20.The teens are part of a national pilot program of the Centers for Disease Control called STRYVE, which stands for Striving to Reduce Youth Violence Everywhere.

The teens were selected to take part in the six-month program where they go to classes for several months and then work during the summer, up to 180 hours each, at minimum wage.

The students are all considered at risk, said Abdullah Hafeedh, community health worker for STRYVE, and they come from schools and youth clubs from all over the area in “hot spots” of criminal activity. The program is a project of Multnomah County, with funding provided by grants from the CDC.

“The program targets youth at risk who are challenged with barriers, whether it's economic or school, and we interview them and select them,” he said. “It's through the SummerWorks (youth internship) program and a six-month participation... They go to classes and then they work.”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK -  A volunteer uses a roller to paint the large sections of red paint on the Plaza del Sol mural in Rockwood on Friday.The students will have other projects too, but their painting work is to get ready for Rock the Block '14 next weekend. The second annual event will be held at the plaza from 3-8 p.m. Friday, June 27, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 28, for “a fun celebration of the community of Rockwood.”

Even though the students are part of a program to combat violence, Hafeedh asked The Outlook not to ask them about the recent school shooting at Reynolds High. School shootings are isolated incidents, he said, and many of the students live in neighborhoods where violence is an everyday occurrence.

“School violence is not the norm,” Hafeedh said. “We are addressing where violence has become the norm.”

Another goal of the CDC is to get local public health agencies involved in violence prevention, he said, and to promote the STRYVE program to help prevent the spread of neighborhood violence.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Addisun Salazar, 13, of Northeast Portland concentrates on her work while painting on the Plaza del Sol mural.“They need to recognize and encourage strategies because they have the capacity to sustain them,” he said.

The Justice Department also does its job, Hafeedh said, but the goal of STRYVE is prevention, before a teen ends up in jail.

“We can help and stop problems before they begin,” he said. “We want to help them (young people) recognize the language of violence and learn to navigate through it and not become influenced by it.”

As they took a break from painting, three of the teenagers sat on a curb at the edge of the plaza and talked excitedly about working in the STRYVE program.

This is the first paid job for all the kids, but Daniel Dominguez, 14, said he was having a good time.

“I'm a hard worker and I'm a leader and I'm fun,” he said. “But some of the kids live in areas of violence and about 75 percent have violence in their lives.”

As part of their classwork, Daniel said he and the other students studied problem areas in their communities and came up with solutions, and then got to choose their projects.

“It's pretty awesome,” Dominguez said. “We got to go around the community, looked at its liabilities and assets and took pictures.”

Dominguez said it feels good to work for an organization that wants to help people get involved in healthy activities.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Bright colors were the theme of the day for the volunteer painters at the Plaza del Sol mural.“I know a lot of people who have lots of violence in their lives or family and I want to show them that even though you have to overcome it, you can be helped,” he said.

Lawrence James, 19, said it makes him feel good to do something for the community.

“I know I can look back in a year or so and know that I helped create this,” he said.

Rafael Corona-Solis, 16, said he appreciates the new friendships he's made.

“It allows me to open up. A lot of these people, I wouldn't say 'Hi' to if I met them on the street,” he said. “But I made new friends, and right now we're in the process of deciding what we'll do next.”

Classes began in January, and the students will continue work through August on various projects. But it's more than the work, Corona-Solis said.

“This has been a learning experience. I've learned new skills like community leadership and taking the initiative, and I get to meet other people and realize this really is a diverse community,” he said.

“It's like a bond with other kids from other communities,” Dominguez said, to which James added, “it keeps a lot of youth out of the streets.”

Many private and federal agencies are involved in the STRYVE effort, a five-year program that has been in the planning stages for two years and is now being implemented in four cities, including the Portland area, Boston, Houston and Salinas, Calif. But more cooperation is needed, especially from local health departments.

“To be effective, communities need a continuum of approaches that span from prevention to response and that are applied from early childhood through adulthood,” the CDC website states.



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